|Election 2012 Part 2: The bulldog in winter|
Published: Jun 11, 2012
FNMs keep asking, why did we lose? Was it the DNA’s difference? Was it the PLP’s promises? Was it our leader’s tough man style?
I think the more appropriate question would be, how, given the odds, could the FNM have possibly won? And the odds were great. This go round the PLP have had the easiest job of any opposition in recent times. All PLPs had to do was watch and wait (which is pretty much what every opposition has done in recent memory). No jobs, spiking murders, low convictions, higher fuel prices, maddening road works, you name it: it all was spelling doom for the FNM since about 2009. And given how close the last election was, you had to assume that if anybody was going to lose ground it would be the FNM. So said, so done.
But despite all that, I thought Ingraham might pull it off. His administration was extremely busy and extremely productive in those five years. With the dust settling after everything was dug up, bulldozed and rebuilt, I was willing to imagine that the people might reward him with another five years. But despite all the FNM did, they were rejected. Ironically, I believe Ingraham lost because of what he didn’t do. And despite his decisiveness, the decisions he didn’t make are what killed the FNM. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. In Ingraham’s case, it was near impossible.
King of concrete
The FNM were construction happy in this last term, but then they always have been under Ingraham. Ingraham’s vision of national development and progress is rooted in modernization; and modernization to him means better infrastructure, and creating greater efficiency in government processes. Liberalized broadcasting, fiber cables throughout the nation, a new water system in the capital, schools, clinics, police stations, post offices, libraries and sidewalks: this is the Ingraham legacy and vision. It is a good legacy, a good vision. All of these things are essential to a good quality of life. But if Ingraham had a blind spot, it was human development. The majority of the population in his 15 years of power left school with few marketable skills, left semi-literate and culturally poor, endure an increasingly high cost of living and have been priced out of land ownership in the capital, and remained largely dependent on someone outside of their communities to solve their problems and create opportunities for them (This is not just Ingraham’s failure; it is Christie’s as well, and Pindling’s).
Ingraham is a reformer, just look at his legislative record; but he is most of all a pragmatist. He is a reformer who picks and chooses when and how to reform based on his own political needs rather than on what the moment calls for most. He built a new straw market, new airport terminals, new roads, etc, etc. He saw it and said that it was good. But the people were not in the mood to thank him for it. The FNM’s orthodox approach to economic downturns which suggest that governments should spend more to offset the shrinking private sector, didn’t produce a recovery or create very many jobs because most of the millions borrowed left the country. Improvements that in the long term the FNM may be thanked for caused misery and frustration in the short term. Arguably, Ingraham tried to get six years of road work completed in three because he wasn’t prepared to leave it to the PLP to finish if he lost in 2012. Ironically, he made sure he’d lose in 2012 by trying to get it all done in three years.
The fight on crime
Crime is a complex issue. Bahamians think of violent crime when they talk about crime being “out of control” but there is a level of criminality that characterizes the conduct of normal, so-called law abiding citizens that no one speaks about. We just want the murders to stop.
Ingraham’s government was very aggressive at addressing crime from a policing and judicial stand point. He also finally came up with a strategy for prevention (Volunteer Bahamas) albeit far too late in his term. New courts, many new judges, new leadership in terms of prosecutions, a new commissioner, a new fleet of motorbikes and cars, electronic bracelets for accused on bail, closed circuit television, enforcement of the seat belt law, tougher sentences for gun possession, an impressive record in terms of drug trafficking interdiction: none of this seemed to matter to the public because the murder count kept rising.
When the PLP knocked the FNM for record murder rates the FNM did not respond with frank discussions about what was really possible for a government to do within the context of a democracy with the rule of law and a principle of presumed innocence. The PLP told the nation the FNM stopped protecting witnesses and stopped Urban Renewal and school policing and enough people believed what they said and more importantly believed that these programs could stop the rising murder rate. The FNM didn’t take the time to answer; they assumed they were better off ignoring the issue of murder and PLP smoke and mirrors. This was a crucial mistake.
I don’t believe the PLP’s last five years in office compare well to the FNM’s in terms of addressing the structural weaknesses in the justice system but the FNM didn’t make that case. There are no short term solutions to cycles of violence outside of the state overstepping its bounds and itself becoming a law breaker. I’m talking about extra-judicial executions, curfews, illegal detentions, torture and so on.
Ingraham called debates “foolishness” but I actually think that if there was one thing that could have delivered victory to the FNM, it was not another mass rally; it was a series of debates. The FNM was facing an uphill battle. They led polls in terms of decided voters but there was a large percentage of ‘undecideds’ that needed persuading. I believe this group didn’t even know how they would vote on the eve of the election. Ingraham needed to try something new if he was going to persuade them. Talk of PLP corruption didn’t resonate this time around; neither did photos of new airport terminals. He needed to take the public’s questions and methodically, patiently, answer them and equally as patiently point out why the PLP would have done no better in the last five years if they were in power.
But as I said, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Ingraham is an old school politician. Rallies are his thing. He needed to change to win and he wasn’t prepared to. So he lost. He lost the Elizabeth by-election because he denied Sands the opportunity to outshine Pinder (which I believe he would have easily done if he had debated); and he lost power because he didn’t give Desmond Bannister, Zhivargo Laing, Darron Cash, Michael Pintard, John Bostwick, Dionne Foulkes, Carl Bethel and all the other FNM talents the opportunity to outshine their PLP rivals. Along with the fact that he didn’t give his candidates enough time to campaign in areas they were assigned, not debating was the biggest mistake Ingraham could have made.
I believe Hubert Ingraham took his job terribly seriously as prime minister and loves the Bahamian people. But he struggles to convey that love verbally. He is a doer, not a talker. Despite running a better campaign overall (with a better website, better written speeches and better organization), the FNM lost because they did not tailor a message that acknowledged the current psychic climate of the nation.
Bahamians, being hit hard by the global recession, needed to be encouraged, needed hope, needed, quite frankly, to be flattered. Flattery is the PLP’s forte. Confidence was low, morale was low; frustration and fear were high. Ingraham’s message praised his record and the record of his party; the PLP’s message praised the people.
It didn’t matter that the PLP’s record under Christie was not really more nationalist than Ingraham in real terms. Saying they believed in Bahamians stuck because Bahamians feel threatened and marginalized in their own country: it was a refashioning of the typical election accusation that so and so “sellin’ the country to foreigners”. It turned that anxiety and fear mongering inside out and affirmed the anxious and fearful instead. Smoke and mirrors it may have been, but the FNM struggled to inspire. Ingraham’s final speeches were deeply personal and moving, but it was too late; the die had been cast.